Dir: Scott Hicks. US. 2007. 101mins.
No Reservations is the lighter, blander Hollywood version of Mostly Martha (Drei Sterne), the 2001 German-language romantic dramedy about love, food and family. The adjusted tone and the star power of leads Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart will certainly suit the remake's domestic positioning as a female-skewing piece of summer counter-programming.
But even undemanding popcorn crowds might feel emotionally undernourished by this Castle Rock Americanisation of what was a touching if conventional European original.
Apparently seeking the same kind of audience that made The Devil Wears Prada a counter-programming hit last summer, Warner opens the film wide in North America this coming weekend, opposite likely blockbuster The Simpsons Movie.
Awareness of the original (which grossed a healthy $4.2m in North America in summer 2002) could actually boost the redo's commercial prospects, though the arrival in US cinemas next week of the smaller but similarly female-friendly Becoming Jane could have a limiting effect.
Warner - and, in select territories, co-producer Village Roadshow - will roll the film out internationally through August and September. Zeta-Jones' strong international appeal will be a considerable selling point, but outside the US the remake's fortunes are more likely to be adversely affected by the success in any given territory of the original.
Original writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck's screenplay was adapted for the remake by the previously uncredited Carol Fuchs, who keeps most of the story - and a surprising number of complete scenes - intact.
Kate (Zeta Jones) is master chef in an upscale Manhattan restaurant, though the intensity and precision with which she works in the kitchen does nothing to improve her empty personal life. After her sister's sudden death, Kate nervously takes on the role of surrogate parent to her bright nine-year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin, from Little Miss Sunshine).
While Kate is busy trying to get Zoe settled the restaurant hires a new sous-chef, the vivacious and handsome Nick (Eckhart, last seen in Thank You For Smoking). In spite of their very different personalities, Nick is happy to serve as Kate's number two. But Kate sees the newcomer as another threat to her perfectly organised world.
For the film's first half-hour, Australian director Scott Hicks (Shine) keeps the tone fairly subdued. Thereafter, though, the remake begins to diverge from the feel of the original, going more for cuteness than veracity.
The story is still predictable - Nick connects with Zoe, Zoe pushes Kate towards Nick, Kate finds out what her life's been missing - but it's told with less subtle charm in this version. And the remake's one major narrative change - the search for the child's absent father is completely omitted - makes the story's outcome even less uncertain.
In her first big screen appearance since 2005's under-performing The Legend Of Zorro, Zeta-Jones seems miscast as tightly wound workaholic Kate. Eckhart brings a big smile and a lively charm to his role, but there's not much chemistry between the leads and there's a curious lack of the kind of rom-com banter at which Zeta-Jones, in particular, might have excelled.
Breslin makes a refreshing change from the standard wide-eyed moppet, but she doesn't get much opportunity to live up to the promise of her award-nominated Little Miss Sunshine performance. Patricia Clarkson (Pieces Of April) adds dramatic ballast as restaurant owner Paula.
The remake makes even more use of music than did the original. It employs at least one of the fun Latin songs from Nettelbeck's film but adds in a string of opera's greatest hits (Nick insists on a soundtrack of big arias in what was previously Kate's no-nonsense kitchen) plus some romantic modern pop from Michael Buble and Liz Phair.
An original score from minimalist composer Philip Glass seems intended to lend a classy, up-market touch, but it mostly just feels incongruous.
Castle Rock Entertainment
Village Roadshow Pictures
Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros Pictures International/Village Roadshow